Supporters say time away from the state can pay dividends.

"Any time you travel, you bring back ideas," said Colm O'Comartun, a longtime O'Malley aide who became executive director of the Democratic governors group when O'Malley took the reins in 2010. "Any time you sit down with smart, successful peers, you learn something from that."

There has been a cost to taxpayers. The Maryland State Police, which protects the governor 24 hours a day, reported spending nearly $100,000 on 26 out-of-state trips since Jan. 1.

The governor was accompanied by state staff members on 10 of the trips. Their expenses totaled $8,000.

While he has two years left in his second term, it is unclear how much work O'Malley has left to do in Annapolis. In six years, he has checked off most of his legislative priorities: laws to limit sprawl, increase spending on education, balance the state budget, legalize same-sex marriage, expand education opportunities for illegal immigrants and redraw the state's congressional map to add another Democrat to Congress.

O'Malley just lost his top legislative officer to the world of Annapolis lobbying. His lieutenant governor, Anthony G. Brown, is expected to play an increasingly public role as he prepares for a gubernatorial run of his own, with O'Malley's endorsement.

There remain two efforts outstanding: legislation to expand wind energy, which made it through the House of Delegates last year, and repeal of the death penalty, which does not appear to have sufficient support from a State House full of politicians weary of special sessions and tough votes.

"I think the general feeling is that we are exhausted," said Del. Kumar P. Barve, the House Democratic leader. "I don't think we have anything earth-shattering this year."

It would be understandable if O'Malley, too, needed a rest. The past 18 months have included one regular session; three special sessions and an election with four contentious ballot items. He's had victories in nearly every area.

He's chaired the Democratic Governors Association for twice as long as governors tend to remain in charge.

When he started in 2010, there were 20 Democratic governors. Now there are 19.

Jennifer Duffy, an analyst for the Cook Political Report, doesn't knock O'Malley for the loss. She says the Democrats were expected to lose more.

She said the GOP had reasonable chances to win races in Washington state, New Hampshire, Montana and North Carolina. In the end, they gained only North Carolina.

The Democrats "held the line," Duffy said. "Sometimes holding the line is the best you are going to do."

Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, sees it differently. On O'Malley's watch, Republicans won a closely watched recall election in Wisconsin that was seen as a referendum on public-sector unions. North Carolina has been governed by Democrats for two decades — and for 100 of the past 112 years.

Now, he said, 30 states are run by Republican governors — the largest majority for any party in a dozen years. (One state, Rhode Island, is governed by an independent.)

"It is 30 to 19," said Schrimpf. "If that is how you measure success, then it is a prejudice of low expectations."

Schrimpf called the GOP's success in the gubernatorial races a "bright spot" in a year "that went overwhelmingly Democratic on the federal level."

Democrats won the White House, expanded their majority in the Senate and gained seats in the House.

O'Malley said his most significant contribution to the governors association was uniting Democratic executives behind one message: Jobs and opportunity. It was a theme he hammered on the talk show circuit.